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India and Nepal 1987

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Fying Aeroflot to Delhi

Friday 4th September

11.30am and we're in the departure lounge at Heathrow. The plane's been delayed for two hours but that's the least of our problems. When we checked in only Cathy and I had seats. It transpired that Modern Air had phoned up yesterday in a panic to book our seats, and there were only two. If we hadn't been calling Modern Air yesterday there might not even have been two. This is Modern Air's responsibility since we are paying them to book and confirm our seats.

Anyway, we're here, after cursory checks on tickets and passports and a thorough rummage through my admittedly disreputable-looking bag. We'll be here for a while since the flight has been delayed from 11.25am to 2pm.

2 minutes to two and I've left British soil for a bit. We are now paying guests of Aeroflot - Soviet Airlines, on an Ilyushin Il-62m (the one that looks like a VC-10) and shortly (I hope) bound for Moscow.

20 to three and we're over the Thames estuary. I'm getting a crick in my neck from looking backwards. The pilot is still climbing, and about 50% of the passengers (mostly Japanese, with some Indians) are asleep. Cathy's one of them - so is the pudgy little Japanese girl on her left, who had difficulty understanding about seat belts.

It was reassuring that the Russian air hostesses went through the same emergency drill as on British airlines, even though I doubt whether lifejackets have save the lives of many airline passengers.

Cathy and I are in the rear cabin (there are two) over the starboard wing. We're climbing more slowly now, and the sky overhead is a very deep blue.

Aeroflot boarding pass

Aeroflot In-flight Catering

  • Drinks trolley - Pepsi-cola or lemonade free - pay for alcoholic drinks. I asked how much the vodka was.
  • "English money?"

    Yes. The stewardess studied a folded bit of paper.

    "One pound seventy-one."

    We struggled to put the money together, and handed her the exact amount. She handed back a florin and held out a 10p piece.

    "Another like this."

    Fortunately I had one. I expected a measure of vodka, or a miniature, but got a 200ml bottle of "Stolichnaya" (probably translates as "falling over juice"), and 2 cans of Pepsi as a mixer. And a somewhat slapped wrist from Cathy.

  • Food - familiar (fairly!) but good - a beef stroganoff, salad etc.
  • Wine - one glass, good.
  • Water - a good idea (I have a bottle of "Highland Spring" stashed away, along with one of Red Label).
  • Tea.

We're flying at 10,000m+, at 950 km/hour, and we're now over the Russian border. I've managed to put my watch forward 3 hours to Moscow time.

Russia looks quite like parts of Britain (should that be surprising?) with a lot of forests interspersed with agricultural land, and a scattering of smallish lakes. I hope I see a Russian fighter plane...

The passengers have woken up. Jabber, jabber - the foreign languages make it futile to eavesdrop. A European-looking couple opposite (Russian?) are playing poker dice.

8.03pm Moscow time (3 hours flying time). We're on approach to Moscow. Temperature is 11C. Better put my jersey on.

8.23pm. Now descending at an ear-knackering rate, still above the clouds. The sky is a beautiful pink around the horizon, and there's a moon lying roughly south.

9.18pm Moscow time. A slick, if slightly unnerving, change of planes at Moscow. Militiamen in khaki uniforms at the gangway and passport control. The airport was almost empty, and semi-blacked out - I think they were just waiting for our flight.

We're now on an Ilyushin Il-86, the only Soviet wide-body jet. It has a lower deck, 8 seats abreast and is stuffed full of Indians. They're (the airline, not the Indians) playing the same muzak as before the last flight - over-orchestrated versions of the Moonlight Sonata and Bach's Prelude in C.

We're up in the back, in the extreme tail, next to an emergency exit on the starboard side. A few Buddhist monks in maroon robes are over to our left. Cathy's reading "Unreliable Memoirs" by Clive James.

I forgot to mention the age of the militiamen - young. In fact barely out of school.

Technical corner: distance to our first stop, which is Tashkent, is 3,000km, or 3 hours flying time. There are Tupolev Tu-16 bombers parked next to the runway.

9.56pm. With a loud and unhealthy rumble resembling empty GPO trolleys at a railway station the behemoth began to lumber down the runway. "It'll never fly,"" I muttered, but after a mile or two of runway it did, unfortunately with little reduction in noise level. I hope the runway at Delhi is long enough to land it.

The seatbelt sign is now off. The Buddhist monks are already asleep, lying across three seats. A number of our fellow passengers back here are members of the Nepal handball team.

Time for a sleep.

One very short nap later - the stewardesses have just come round with a drinks trolley, from which I chose mineral water. One had long red hair and a lovely smile, and could easily have been Scottish. Apart from the noise I'm quite impressed with this plane. It's very roomy.

FOOD - sardine-like fish, then a huge chicken, cold, a gherkin, tomato, rye bread, a roll, a sweet cookie and tea. Very tasty. Real knife and fork.

12.51 Moscow time. Fasten seat belts to land in Tashkent (where?). It's still dark outside so nothing to see. The stewardesses brought their trolley around a while ago and we asked for juice. It turned out to be like the syrup from a tin of peaches.

I've been passing the time napping, reading Paul Theroux's "The Great Railway Bazaar" or listening to the Stones. Cathy's unwell again.

I forgot to mention our small brown friend, a cockroach who was crawling round the window while we ate, and recently landed on my book to take a look.

Sad to say, the Tashkent stop is not particularly riveting. It's the middle of the night and we have a hour and twenty minutes for refuelling etc. (includes cleaning the toilets behind us. Good) One noteworthy item is the apparent age of the trucks. No turbo-intercooling here - they look just like trucks pictured in National Geographics of the 40s or 50s.

We flew over Tashkent on the way in - it looks like a largish place.

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